This time of year, I see Ebenezer Scrooge everywhere. My office is decorated with figurines of Scrooge and Tiny Tim, various editions of A Christmas Carol, and other representations of the classic story by Charles Dickens.
This isn’t necessarily because I want to take Ebenezer Scrooge as a role model. Oh, I suppose that, up to a point, being associated with English literature’s most famous miser is not a bad thing for a financial planner. Only up to a point, however. I’m pleased to have clients think of me as "thrifty." I’d prefer they didn’t regard me as "stingy" or "miserly."
It’s an important distinction. "Thrift" is prudent, careful management of money and other resources. "Stingy" is a lack of generosity, with a connotation of meanness and selfishness. "Miserly" takes hoarding to a dysfunctional extreme. It implies a lack of conscious choice.
That lack of choice is exactly what makes Ebenezer Scrooge such a useful figure in my work with clients. In recent years, I have begun to use his story as a metaphor for helping people change the way they think about money. I’ve even used it in a book, The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge, co-authored with Dr. Ted Klontz and Dr. Brad Klontz.
During his unhappy, lonely childhood, Ebenezer Scrooge developed a set of unconscious beliefs, or "money scripts," that he carried into his adult life. Among those were beliefs that having more money was the way to happiness, that spending money on himself or others was wrong, that people could not be trusted, and that money was more important than people.
The quality that most people associate with Scrooge is his life as an unhappy miser and his attitude of "Bah, humbug!". Yet what’s most important about A Christmas Carol is his transformation to a joyful, generous man. The visits of the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future helped Scrooge understand that his beliefs about money were false. With the guidance of the Spirits, he was transformed into ". . . as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew . . .".
If Ebenezer Scrooge could change his deep-seated, painful need to hoard every penny, there is certainly hope for the rest of us to change our destructive financial patterns. We may not have magical ghosts to help us transform overnight, but we certainly have the same ability as did Scrooge to become joyful and generous of spirit.
The Christmas season has become far more complicated than it was in Scrooge’s time. The pressures of shopping, decorating, entertaining, and traveling can trigger all kinds of less-than-ideal financial behavior. You might find it helpful to re-read A Christmas Carol, not simply for the story, but for some possible insight into your own money scripts. The stress of the holidays can help you begin to identify some of your habitual money behavior that you might want to change.
If you’d prefer to listen to Scrooge’s story, as portrayed in The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge, you’re welcome to join me by telephone or online for a special recitation. (You can register at www.kahlerfinancial.com.) It will be at 4:00 p.m. MDT on Thursday, December 14, and will subsequently be available on my website as a podcast. I’m looking forward to sharing one of my favorite Christmas stories.
In writing A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens probably intended simply to create a sentimental story celebrating the spirit of Christmas. His talented pen, however, produced a classic piece of literature. In addition, his psychological insight created a parable that today is as useful as it is enjoyable.